From the downbeat of the conductor’s baton and the first words spoken from the Conference Center pulpit Saturday morning, Oct. 2, familiar faces and familiar places set the tone for the October 2021 general conference — but still with considerable adjustments for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time in two years, general conference returned to the Conference Center auditorium, with live music from the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and more than just a handful of Church leaders present.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, the Church’s three previous general conferences have been limited to smaller settings, only a handful of leaders joining those for messages or prayers, prerecorded music selections and conference proceedings closed to the public but available via television, radio and livestreaming.
However, pandemic precautions still linger today, as evidenced by the nearly empty Conference Center auditorium.
Sitting on the rostrum for the Saturday morning session were the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the front row. Members of the Presidency of the Seventy, sisters of the general organization presidencies and the Presiding Bishopric were among those seated in the socially distanced seats behind the senior Brethren.
They were joined by those who were to speak or offer prayers during the session. Most general authorities serving in international areas are unable to attend the conference because of travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
Taking its traditional spot in the loft, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square was at half-strength, dividing its numbers during the conference weekend’s two days. Halving the choir allowed members to sit distanced as well.
In the lower sections, other General Authority Seventies, other Church leaders and emeritus Seventies were seated, again at appropriate distances and masked according to COVID-19 precautions. They were joined by several hundred family members of Church leaders. Leaders who were participating in the weekend’s five sessions were allowed to bring more guests to the respective sessions.
An estimated 900 people were cleared to be in the auditorium seats for the first session, with 700 expected for each of the following general sessions. However, Saturday morning’s attendance was well below the ticketed 900.
It made for 5% capacity for the 21,000-seat Conference Center.
The general conference is the fourth consecutive under COVID-19 precautions since the Church closed meetinghouses, temples and missionary training centers during spring 2020 as the pandemic started to run rampant.
The April 2020 general conference was broadcast from a small auditorium in the Church Office Building. The First Presidency presided at and conducted the sessions, and only those who were invited to speak or pray were in attendance. The music for the conference was prerecorded.
The members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sat masked and socially distanced across the stage of the Conference Center Theater for a new venue and larger group participating in the October 2020 general conference, which followed a format similar to the previous conference. Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve was absent because of recent exposure to the virus; he had prerecorded his conference message.
The April 2021 general conference returned as a virtual event broadcast from the Conference Center Theater. Only the speakers and their spouses were in attendance at each session, with music once again recorded from previous general conferences.